|PHOTO CREDIT: GRX-SET World RX Team.|
The flying Finn was there-or-thereabout throughout round seven in Montalegre – and after placing fourth in the intermediate classification, a lightning-quick start in the second semi-final propelled him into contention for victory.
Having led five of the six laps, he had to sustain the pressure of a hard-charging Johan Kristoffersson. With a semi-final victory within sight... Johan sent it up the inside of the Hyundai driver at the long right-hander forcing his way through to claim the semi-final win.
The FIA Stewards investigated the incident after the semi-final and deemed both Niclas and Johan were responsible for different infringements, and therefore both would be reprimanded.
|World RX of Portugal Final - Turn One. |
PHOTO CREDIT: Red Bull Content Pool
Whilst Grönholm had an incredible launch and immediately darted to the joker on the opening lap - it was a tactic that would pay off handsomely as the race progressed.
Timmy Hansen led the way with Kristoffersson hot on his heels, and younger brother Kevin following in third. As the leading trio dueled ferociously at the front of the field, they were also holding each other up – allowing Grönholm to close the gap.
Approaching the mid-way point, Kristoffersson tried to prise the door open for the lead but drifted wide. That enabled Kevin Hansen to edge alongside for second place, with the KYB EKS JC driver sliding across the gravel trap and plowing through the track markers as Kristoffersson kept his foot planted firmly to the floor coming out in second.
With Grönholm closing the gap, all three left their jokers to the very last lap in a bid to put some clean air between themselves and the flying Finn, but he undercut them to assume the lead he would not relinquish, in so doing cementing a fifth career win in World RX.
"It feels great – I didn’t expect this after qualifying. I didn’t have much choice but to take the joker at the start of the final, and I was actually a bit surprised that Timmy, Johan, and Kevin all chose the standard lap," Grönholm said.
"We had slightly better pace than in the qualifiers and when they began battling, that allowed me to catch up and I just tried to stick as close as possible to the back of them. I really didn’t know if we had enough, but thankfully it turned out that we did."
Championship leader Timmy Hansen claimed second at the end of a weekend he had largely dominated, claiming three fastest times in qualifying and a semi-final triumph.
Despite missing out on victory, the Swede has nonetheless extended his advantage at the top of the title table to 17 points, with 60 remaining to play for in the season finale (double-header).
"This weekend has been fantastic for me. We scored lots of good results throughout qualifying and that battle with Kevin in the semi-final was so close, decided purely on pace. While the results say I won plenty of sessions this weekend, every one of those sessions was hard-fought and very close," Timmy Hansen said.
"The final was super tough – Johan kept the pressure on and it's impossible to close the door at this track given how sideways you need to be on corner entry.
"The moment I had some space to Johan behind I did everything I could, both to stay clear of him and also try to build a gap to Niclas further behind. I couldn't quite manage to find enough to stop Niclas from coming out ahead but regardless, it was a brilliant race. That's why we love this sport."
His younger brother Kevin Hansen was classified third after Kristoffersson was handed a five-second time penalty for his track marker transgression, which dropped the three-time world champion to sixth.
"There was a possibility to do more in the final but the first turn didn't quite go right. I locked up the brakes and stalled, so I didn't have any turbo pressure for exiting the turn and Johan zipped away after I'd nearly got him for second place. That changed the story of the final. But I'm happy with my weekend overall," Kevin Hansen said.
Grönholm’s GRX-SET team-mate Krisztián Szabó claimed a fourth, in what he calls "a quite okay weekend" in Montalegre.
"We missed a little bit overall through the weekend, but I managed to find some speed in myself for the final. I changed my driving style but I was also at the back of the pack from the start. From there I had to fight for some positions, which I could gain in the last lap," Szabó said.
Belgian Enzo Ide in the second KYB EKS JC entry claimed fifth ahead of his team-mate Johan Kristoffersson (in sixth).
A few hours after the final, the FIA Stewards received a protest in relation to the five-second time penalty handed to Johan Kristoffersson, but they deemed that the protest was admissible but unfounded, and therefore no further action would be taken.
The 2021 World RX season will conclude at the Nürburgring on 27/28 November, with an eagerly anticipated doubleheader set to crown the World Champion.
World RX of Portugal - FINAL RESULT:
1. Niclas Grönholm (FIN) GRX-SET World RX Team 6 laps
2. Timmy Hansen (SWE) Hansen World RX Team + 0.537s
3. Kevin Hansen (SWE) Hansen World RX Team + 1.977s
4. Krisztián Szabó (HUN) GRX-SET World RX Team + 2.270s
5. Enzo ide (BEL) KYB EKS JC + 3.762s
6. Johan Kristoffersson (SWE) KYB EKS JC + 5.754s
FIA World Rallycross Championship - Drivers' Standings (top 5):
1. Timmy Hansen (Hansen World RX Team) 178 pts
2. Johan Kristoffersson (KYB EKS JC) 161 pts
3. Kevin Hansen (Hansen World RX Team) 159 pts
4. Niclas Grönholm (GRX-SET) 149 pts
5. Krisztián Szabó (GRX-SET) 127 pts
FIA World Rallycross Championship - Teams' Standings:
1. Hansen World RX Team 336 pts
2. GRX-SET World RX Team 275 pts
3. KYB EKS JC 252 pts